Fauci urges caution on schools, warns against ‘cavalier’ idea that children are immune from COVID-19

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 12: Senators listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speak remotely during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony from members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on how to safely open the country and get America back to work and school. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Speaking at a Tuesday Senate hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci had a sharp retort for Sen. Rand Paul after the Kentucky Republican said that Fauci was not the “end all” in knowledge about the coronavirus, and that it’s “kind of ridiculous” to suggest children should be kept out of school in the fall.

While agreeing that children on the whole do much better than adults with COVID-19, Fauci noted recent reports of severe disease among children and said that the way the virus affects them still not well understood.

“We don’t know everything about this virus and we really better be pretty careful, particularly when it comes to children,” Fauci said. “I think we better be careful (that) we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune from the deleterious effects.”

Fauci was responding to comments Paul made arguing that the current mortality rates in children and young adults was proof that schools should reopen.

“The mortality between 0 and 18 in the New York data approaches 0,” Paul said. “Between 18 and 45 the mortality in New York was 10 out of 100,000.”

Paul went on to reference Sweden’s pandemic response, saying, “We need to observe with an open mind what went on in Sweden where the kids kept going to school.”

Sweden took a relatively soft approach to fighting the coronavirus, one that attracted international attention. Large gatherings were banned, but restaurants and schools for younger children have stayed open. The government has urged social distancing, and Swedes have largely complied.

The country has paid a heavy price, with 3,175 fatalities from COVID-19 as of May 9, 2020. That’s more than 31 deaths per 100,000 of its population, compared with about 8 per 100,000 in neighboring Denmark, which imposed a strict lockdown early on that is only now being slowly lifted.

Paul argued that America should “look at the Swedish model” saying that it would be a huge mistake if schools were to remain closed for the next year.

Acknowledging Paul’s statements that they should remain “humble” in regards to the virus and the lack of information still surrounding it, Fauci suggested that the fact that there is still so much the scientific community doesn’t know about COVID-19 is exactly why schools and local governments should be cautious about reopening.

“The more and more we learn, we’re seeing things about what this virus can do that we didn’t see from the studies in China or in Europe,” Fauci said before referring to the emergence of a rare inflammatory condition showing up in children that is linked to the novel coronavirus.

“Again, you’re right in the numbers, that children do much much better than adults and the elderly and particularly those with underlying conditions, but I am very careful and hopefully humble in knowing that I don’t know everything this disease and that’s why I’m very reserved in making broad predictions.”

A total of 52 children in New York City have been diagnosed with an inflammatory syndrome possibly linked to COVID-19 and another 10 cases are pending, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

Of those 62 confirmed or possible cases, 25 have tested positive for the coronavirus and another 22 had antibodies for the virus, de Blasio said. One child has died.

The total of 52 confirmed cases in the city is up from 38 cases that had been announced previously.

Children elsewhere in the U.S. and in Europe also have been hospitalized with the condition, known as pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that New York is helping develop national criteria for identifying and responding to the syndrome at the request of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

De Blasio urged parents to call their pediatricians if their children exhibit symptoms including persistent fever, rash, abdominal pain and vomiting.

“It’s sobering, it’s bluntly frightening,” de Blasio said, “and I want to say to parents out there, if you’re hearing this information about pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome and it sounds scary, it does sound scary.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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